University Ministry hosts panel on Islam experience in healthcare

During their first rotations of their career, medical students don’t know what to expect from the first few patients they see. Will they be accepting of a student? Will the patient let the student learn from them?

For third-year student Nimra Elahi, she dealt with a unique first impression that a majority of her fellow students never have to deal with. Elahi wears a hijab, traditional headscarf worn by Muslim women. Before she can assess a patient or ask them any health-related questions, many of them ask her about her hijab and the religion it represents.

“The medical student is the first person the patient sees, and usually they end up doing a patient history on me,” said Elahi, who participated in the “Islam in the Age of ISIS: Reflections on the American Muslim Experience in a Healthcare Context” panel at Stritch School of Medicine. “I’ll allow patients to ask me questions about myself, whether it’s about my religion, my desire to specialize, or interest in medicine so that I can build trust that will allow me to take part in a patient’s care.”

Elahi spoke with Omer M. Mozaffar, MA, the Muslim Chaplain for University Ministry and a part-time theology lecturer and Aziz Ansari, DO, an associate professor of hospital medicine and medical director of Home Care/Hospice at Loyola University Medical Center. The panel was sponsored by Health Sciences Division University Ministry as part of their “What Do We Believe?” lecture series.

The speakers sought to explain the basics of Muslim beliefs and practice, particularly in the context of the recent ISIS attacks in Belgium, Turkey, Lebanon, France, Egypt and more. They touched on topics from why more Muslims aren’t outwardly condemning ISIS to what it means to be a Muslim in present day America compared to just 20 years ago.

Mozaffar spoke of how when he was growing up there were plenty of Muslims doing extraordinary things, even just in Chicago alone. The Willis (Sears) and Hancock towers were designed by Fazlur Rahman Khan, a Bangladeshi-American. Kareem Abdul-Jabaar was at the height of his career and boxer Muhammad Ali converted to the Sunni Islam denomination in the 1970s.

Now most people associate Muslims with ISIS and other violence done in the name of the religion. Mozaffar noted that while ISIS commits violent attacks in the name of religious rules, scholars of Islam don’t give ISIS and their practices any religious credence or legitimacy.

Mozaffar and Ansari also fielded questions about the religious practices and texts of Islam and how people end up becoming radicalized to the point of joining ISIS and organizing devastating terrorist attacks.

Closer to home, Elahi is still trying to figure out what she wants to specialize in and what part of the country she wants to live in. She knows there are certain parts of the U.S. where life would be more difficult as a Muslim woman. She’s trying to cultivate her experiences in the hospital and doctor’s offices and decide where she can best use her skills and knowledge to help patients.

“I’m doing my best to represent myself as a caring, educated medical student who also happens to be an American-Muslim, a sister, a daughter,” said Elahi.